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Aidan is a fresh-faced Harvard grad drawn to New Orleans by the possibility of bringing change to a flood-ravaged city. He teaches at an ambitious charter school with a group of newcomers determined to show the world they can use science, data, and hard work to build a model school.
Mary Laurie is a veteran educator who becomes principal of one of the first public high schools to reopen after Katrina. Laurie and her staff find they must fight each day not only to educate the city's teenagers, but to keep the Walker community safe and whole.
In this powerful narrative non-fiction debut, the lives of these three characters provide readers with a vivid and sobering portrait of education in twenty-first-century America. "Hope Against Hope" works in the same tradition as "Random Family" and "There Are No Children Here" to capture the challenges of growing up and learning in a troubled world.
- ISBN-13: 9781608194902
- ISBN-10: 1608194906
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publish Date: February 2013
- Page Count: 316
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-11-26
- Reviewer: Staff
Aiming to distill the difficulties and possibilities facing American educational reform, journalist Carr follows three people at three charter schoolsâ14-year-old student Geraldlynn Stewart, idealistic young teacher Aidan Kelly, and dedicated principal Mary Laurieâas they navigate competing visions of education and civil rights in post-Katrina New Orleans. While the book's time period (2005â2012) sees a general if qualified upswing in student performance, Carr still finds the city, for all its unique history, emblematic of a continuing national crisis of "decayed infrastructure, overwhelmed social services, long-simmering racial tensions, and gross inequalities." Her protagonists' perspectives capture subtleties rarely probed in a national debate more preoccupied with test scores, corporatization, and teachers' unions: discipline, gun violence, and the unmet needs of students facing a wide range of physical and mental problems. Carr, for her part, critiques the increasingly prevalent charter school system, which now serves roughly two million students, for its paternalism, unforgiving "no-excuses" approach, and rigidly college-oriented ethos. Her scholastic prescription is holistic, understanding and embracing the wider social circumstances of a child's learning process by balancing quality teaching against the self-determination and cultural values of that child's particular community. Agent: Farley Chase, Farley Literary. (Feb.)
New Orleans, a model for education reform
At the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans, like many large cities in the U.S., had been mired for years in a school system broken by financial woes, inner-city crime, student discipline problems and low graduation rates. When Katrina flooded most of the schools, it offered the city the chance to reinvent its crumbling educational system, essentially starting with a clean slate. Most of the city’s schools were taken over by the Recovery School District (a statewide district created in 2003 with the intention of turning around troubled schools), which applied radical new strategies to education, including handing many schools over to charter operators.
Sarah Carr examines how well the experiment has worked in her new book, Hope Against Hope. The veteran journalist explores how the charter schools attempt to bring a fresh approach to a school system that has decayed over the decades. What Carr discovers is that while the schools are brand new, all the other factors affecting the education system remain the same: children living in poverty; dysfunctional families; gang and drug problems.
What makes Hope Against Hope more than a dry sociological study is Carr’s decision to view the situation through the eyes of three people with a stake in the outcome: a principal, a teacher and a student. This approach humanizes the story, and places Hope Against Hope in the same class as other groundbreaking books such as Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities and Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here.
The three protagonists in Hope Against Hope are Mary Laurie, principal of O. Perry Walker High School; Aidan Kelly, a teacher at SCI Academy; and Geraldlynn Stewart, a 14-year-old student at KIPP Renaissance High School. What all three soon discover is that reinvention doesn’t necessarily translate into renaissance. There are plenty of struggles. Laurie, an African-American woman who has spent her whole life in New Orleans, witnesses current and former students killed in gang crossfire. Kelly, a young, white Ivy League graduate, slowly loses his innocence and enthusiasm. Stewart, a bright African-American girl with college aspirations, finds it hard to focus on school when she sees crime on her neighborhood streets and a lack of discipline in her classroom.
But as the book’s title suggests, there is hope here: Despite the challenges they face, Laurie, Kelly and Stewart carry on. Just as the overhaul of the New Orleans school system is no quick fix, the principal, teacher and student are intent on succeeding against all odds, no matter how hard the struggle, or how long it may take.